For five years now Chris, Jeff and other Take Back the Sky volunteers have been telling you on various blogs and podcasts, on social media and at cons across the Eastern United States why they believe the first manned SpaceX Dragon should be named Serenity.
Well, we think it’s high time we hear from you!
Why do you think Elon Musk and his crew at SpaceX should name the first of their Dragon V2 capsules after the transport ship from Joss Whedon’s Firefly? What would it mean to you personally to see a privately-owned, American spaceship bear that name?
Or… are you one of those who disagree? If so, why? Do you have another name in mind? Why do you think it’d be better than Serenity? (Fans of Star Trek and Star Wars should keep in mind that NASA and SpaceX have already named vehicles after ships from those franchises, so we’re going to be less receptive to the notion that doing it again is a worthier idea.)
We’ll be featuring (and discussing) some of the most interesting responses in a future post on this site. If you want your comments to be included, be sure to contact us no later than July 31.
We look forward to hearing from you. Until then, peace, love and rockets…
Since 2012, we at Take Back the Sky have been leading a grassroots effort to convince SpaceX to name the first of its manned space capsules after Serenity, the fictional spaceship from Joss Whedon’s science-fiction television series Firefly and feature film Serenity. Despite the fact that we’ve devoted a lot of space as of late (yes, the pun is intended) to covering the many launches that SpaceX has completed so far this year, we still think it’s important that we not lose sight of our raison d’être. To that end, here are ten good reasons why we believe the first manned SpaceX Dragon should be named Serenity…
SpaceX is set to launch yet another commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). A Falcon9 will carry an unmanned Dragon into the black from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:55pm EDT on Thursday evening, June 1 (If no attempt at a launch is possible during the instantaneous launch window, a backup launch window is set for Saturday, June 3 at 5:07pm EDT).
As is often the case with SpaceX launches, this one aims to make a bit of history. First off, it will be the 100th launch from LC-39A, which has been the site of myriad launches from the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs as well as more recent SpaceX launches. In addition, the Dragon space capsule being used to support the CRS-11 mission previously resupplied the International Space Station on SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission in September of 2014.
CRS-11 is the eleventh of up to twenty planned commercial resupply missions to the ISS by Elon Musk and company. This time around, the Dragon will carry almost 3 tons of supplies and payloads, including critical materials that are needed to support many of the more than 250 science experiments that will occur during ISS Expeditions 52 and 53. ISS crew members will use the station’s robotic “Canadarm2” to reach out and capture the Dragon spacecraft and attach it to the station on June 4. She’ll stay berthed to the station for approximately one month, at which time she’ll return to Earth laden with experiments and other materials being sent home from the ISS and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.
And when the Falcon9 breaks atmo and sends the Dragon on her way, the first stage booster will return to land at SpaceX’s LZ-1 landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Considered to be impractical if not impossible by many skeptics just a few years ago, this has now become almost a standard feature of SpaceX launches, with the only real question asked nowadays being “will they bring it back by land or by sea?”
CRS-11 is also a special mission for us here at Take Back the Sky, because we hope to convince SpaceX to name the first Dragon 2 variant of this very spacecraft (which is being developed to transport American crews to and from the station as early as 2018) after the transport ship Serenity from Joss Whedon’s sci-fi series Firefly (and the subsequent motion picture that shared its name with the ship). A successful resupply mission involving a Dragon is always a great opportunity for Browncoats to write a letter to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and president Gwynne Shotwell to congratulate them on their ongoing success and let them know that they think Serenity would be a very shiny name for the first Dragon to take US astronauts into the black.
SpaceX’s webcast of the launch will go live approximately 20 minutes before liftoff. We invite you to watch along with us, and envision what it will be like to watch a Dragon named Serenity return US astronauts to space from American soil in the not-so-distant future.
The other day, SpaceX released the following public statement:
We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
I would hope that I shouldn’t need to give you all any more reason to geek out over the fact that we’re going back to the friggin’ moon before the next Olympics takes place, but to be fair, much like any of the other big announcements that SpaceX has made, there’s a lot to unpack in this. So, here are some salient points in no particular order.
“But they haven’t even flown the ship with people in it yet! These people seem to be a lot of talk…”
To be fair, this announcement comes on the heels of the unveiling of Musk’s, uh, grandiose vision for Martian colonization, so I can see how you’d get that impression. Remember, though, that first line of the press release: this wasn’t their idea. Musk and his company have always been laser-focused on the red planet, and I can’t recall the last time I’ve heard any of them even mention that our planet has a moon.
Plus, they absolutely are not biting off more than they can chew. By their own admission, the lunar flights completely depend on crucial test flights that will happen within the next year or so, namely, this year’s maiden flight of the Falcon IX-Heavy, and of course, the first crewed flights of the Dragon II. The key here, though, is that the technology more or less already exists, they’re just finishing up fabrication and final testing– like when you have essentially finished putting together a piece of IKEA furniture, and are on the final steps of the instructions where you evaluate whether or not you really need to put on that optional sticky foam stopper or other extra doohickey that came with it. Assuming these flights are successful, then everything will be in place without the need to do lengthy, costly R&D.
“So, they’re not landing on the moon, they’re just flying out to it and coming back? What’s the big deal about that?”
It’s a huge deal on many levels. To explain why, you have to understand the circumstances surrounding the last time this happened.
The first “lunar flyby” mission was Apollo 8, but it wasn’t intended to be. Originally, the mission was to play it safe and test the new lunar lander’s systems in Earth orbit, then come right back down. Suddenly, though, NASA was hit with two setbacks that posed a very real threat that they’d lose to the Soviets. First, that lander– in a scenario those of us who closely watch space flights are all too familiar with, it got bogged down with technical problems and delays. Secondly, the CIA came to NASA and passed along a disturbing rumor: the Soviets were about to launch a lunar flyby– meaning that, even if we landed men first, they’d still gloat and claim that they reached the moon first.
It’s desperate times like those that can bring out the best, and transform ordinary men and women into Big Damn Heroes. Rather than wait on or try to rush the lunar lander out the door, they collectively realized, “Wait a minute, we’re NASA, gorrammit. Screw it, let’s just do it first,” and completely restructured the mission from being a safe and relatively risk-free test flight to an all-in gamble that had three American astronauts suddenly tasked with scrambling at the last minute to prepare to become the first men to leave Earth and visit another world.
It was a truly daring gamble, and one that wound up paying off big. Many historians would say it’s what cemented the United States’ civilian space program in first place, and decided the ultimate outcome of the space race right then and there.
So, is the fact that private individuals are repeating that feat in the face of intense public criticism and mockery all on their own a fitting tribute to the accomplishment of Apollo 8? You bet it is. I can’t think of a better way to do it.
Flyin’ (Han) Solo
Part of the press release that the media has jumped on is SpaceX’s intent to do everything themselves— from medical evaluation of these independent astronauts to their training– instead of having NASA do it on the American taxpayer’s dime. This is another huge paradigm shift, from the people who brought you rockets that land themselves. This is the future we always dreamed of, where all men and women are free to seek their fortune among the stars; it’s the reason that space programs are started in the first place.
Well, So Long as We Have These Rockets…
These independent flights to the moon also have the unexpected benefit of filling a critical gap in SpaceX’s business plan, which up until now has consisted of:
- Make rockets way cheaper, like a fraction of what everyone else charges (check).
- Make a 21st-century spaceship that uses tech that isn’t older than we are (almost finished, launching next year).
- Offer to give NASA astronauts rides to the International Space Station, so that they save billions of dollars and literally everyone in the world wins for the rest of the station’s lifetime…
- …which is only another five years or so.
- 20 years later: Mars!
Point is, as wonderful as it is that they’ll be able to prop up the American space program and as important a role as they will play in our progress as a species, the ISS contract only represents so much business before the work runs out. Without it, their prime customer, they didn’t have much business case for the Dragon II– until now. With the advent of independently chartered lunar flights, they’ll be able to keep the lights on up there, plus prove that the ship really can tackle the rigors of deep space that it was designed for, and bridge the gap between the station’s mission and leaving for the red planet.
Lastly…do I really need to say it? We’re going back to the friggin’ moon. We’re doing it well before state agencies, no waiting on the Trump administration, or any other grand proposal that’s always perpetually “ten years away.” It’s not going to be stopped or held back by self-interests and politics, there’s not going to be any “funding issues” on the floor of Congress– a down payment has already been made, and there are others in line behind the first crew! It’s happening in our lifetime, before lots of youth alive today will graduate from public school. For them– and heck, even for diehards like me– it will finally become real and not just a story in the history books.
“Wait…what about you guys?”
There’s no downside to this, not where Take Back the Sky’s campaign to have the first manned Dragon II spaceship named after Serenity from the sci-fi cult classic Firefly is concerned. We knew from the moment we started this that it was a long shot. Now that Musk has had the opportunity to name a couple of craft, it’s apparent that he has different tastes. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell is an avid “Browncoat” (a fan of Firefly), but we have no way of knowing just how much say she has in naming the ships.
So, we see no need to change our plans. We have every intention of keeping our word and getting as many people like you to write letters and sign petitions online and in person at comic-cons before presenting them to SpaceX corporate headquarters prior to the first manned flight of the ship and its official naming. Once we get to that point, we’ll re-evaluate and decide where to go from there. In the meantime, we see nothing but good coming from an announcement like this, and the buildup of publicity leading up to our return to the moon bringing the Dragon II into the public eye like never before (not that we get tired of explaining to fellow con-goers, “Here’s the way it is”).
I’m just overjoyed at the prospect of society and culture returning to the optimism it once had of, “We just went to the moon. If we can do that, then nothing’s impossible!” Heck, who knows– it’d be totally awesome if, after Con Man finished a third season, we were to see another fan campaign like the well-intended “Help Nathan Buy Firefly” campaign aimed at chartering an additional lunar flight via crowd-funding to send stars Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion to the moon and livestream the entire thing! It’s one thing to send men to the moon, it’s one thing to send celebrities into space, it’s another to send two men like Fillion and Tudyk who are to social media what Da Vinci and Michelangelo were to oil paintings. Just imagine: Every last tweet, Vine, and Instagram would be solid gold— like literally, because they’d be worth millions of dollars each! Fillion is already known to engage in moderately risky pastimes like scuba diving, and could totally talk Tudyk into it, if the latter feels skittish about it.
Anyway, we plan to stick to our campaign to name the ship, but if any of you get that “let Alan and Nathan do a reality TV show from space” thing up and running, let us know, because you could definitely count on us to pitch in for that. Like, a lot of money. Wouldn’t you?
If there’s one thing SpaceX has become very good at, it’s making history. And in just a couple of hours, they’ll do it again.
Elon Musk and company will launch their tenth resupply mission to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral this morning at 10:01 am, EST. A Falcon 9 will break atmo with a Dragon capsule that’s ISS bound, and shortly thereafter, if all goes according to plan, SpaceX will once again land the first stage of the rocket– this time at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral. The Dragon will then rendezvous with the International Space Station on February 20.
It’s not the cargo of this 10th of 14 planned resupply missions to the ISS that’s particularly historic, nor is it SpaceX’s recovery of the Falcon’s first stage– something that the world used to watch for in anticipation during launches but is now practically taking for granted (a real credit to SpaceX). What makes this launch so special is where it’s taking place.
SpaceX will send CRS-10 into the black from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. This particular launch site last saw action in 2011, during the waning days of the Space Shuttle program. Prior to that, though, it was the site from which America went to the Moon. In fact, every manned Apollo flight except for one (Apollo 10) was launched from LC-39A, and the Skylab space station was sent into orbit from there as well. In 1981, LC-39A ushered in a new era of American spaceflight with the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, and the pad supported the shuttle program all the way through the final shuttle mission of Atlantis in 2011.
SpaceX is now leasing LC-39A from NASA, and this morning it will once again be the site from which we witness the next step in American spaceflight. This time around the future takes the shape of a privately-built, privately-owned rocket that will be carrying a privately built, privately-owned space capsule into the black in support of a space station that is internationally manned and operated by the joint efforts of several of the world’s government space agencies, after which that same rocket will return to Earth to land and be reused for future missions. And as if that’s not enough, within the year SpaceX may be ready use LC-39A to launch American astronauts into space in a manned version of that very same capsule. (If you agree with us that that first Crew Dragon should be named Serenity, be sure to write to SpaceX and let them know.) If a launch complex could talk, we bet LC-39A would find it appropriate to quote Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds:
“I’m thinking we’ll rise again.”
You can watch SpaceX’s historic launch online this morning on NASA TV starting at 8:30am. SpaceX’s coverage of the launch should begin around 9:30am at spacex.com. Should the launch be postponed for any reason, the backup launch window is Sunday, February 19 at 9:38 am EST. Here’s to history.
Peace, love and rockets…
A couple of days ago, engineer, naval aviator, Apollo astronaut and “the last man on the moon” Eugene “Gene” Cernan passed away at the age of 82. We know… there’s been a lot of obituaries flooding your social feeds of late, and we won’t drag it out, but this man is worth a few words.
Born and raised in suburban Illinois, Cernan received a degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue before going on to serve in the United States Navy as an aviator. His career included over 5,000 hours at the stick, and over 200 landings on aircraft carriers.
He was among the third group selected by NASA for the Astronaut Corps. Cernan flew Gemini 9A and Apollo 10, and in the process became the second American spacewalker, pioneering techniques for extravehicular activity and orbital rendezvous that later crews would use.
What history knows him best for, though, was as commander of Apollo 17, the final expedition to the lunar surface, and the bittersweet honor of being the last man to walk on the moon. Cernan and his crew made the best of their time, gathering invaluable surveying data and samples that gave scientists important clues as to the moon’s early history (and he also managed to set the lunar land speed record in the rover while he was at it).
Before climbing the ladder to the lander and turning his back on the “magnificent desolation” of Earth’s moon, he paused and spoke these words to the people of Earth:
“…As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come … I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record: that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
That’s what history remembers him for. I, however, remember him as a man of indomitable passion, more Browncoat than the Browncoats themselves. Heck, he responded to the “moon landing deniers” in the amazing documentary In the Shadow of the Moon (seriously, stream it the next chance you get, it’s one of the best ever made on the space race with beautiful, never-before-seen HD footage) with words that will sound familiar to any fan of Firefly: “Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.”
I was fortunate enough to meet this brave man when he came to speak at the University of Central Florida. The way that I will remember him will be as a fierce, tireless defender and advocate for getting us back out there in the black. Think about it– how horrible would it feel to be known as the last man to walk on the moon? As the years pass, I can imagine how it could turn from an honor into a terrible burden. Cernan may well have felt the same, because he continuously testified before Congress, spoke before audiences and anyone who would listen to him that he should NOT be the last.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I look at his life and how he spent it after returning to Earth, I can’t avoid looking at myself in the mirror in comparison and asking, “Well, what have you done for that cause?” Indeed, what have each of us done who professes to care and believe in the exploration and colonization of the heavens (which, you’d think, would include any fan of science-fiction franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly/Serenity, etc.)? Not to try to guilt anyone (aside from maybe myself) into it, but I really think there is more we could be doing– not “we” as in “trust everyone else to vote,” but as in you and me, no matter what your background may be.
It’s given me pause to think about how we’ve been going about this little campaign of ours at Take Back the Sky, and it may well inspire a change or two. I’m still thinking it all over in my mind, and I’ll keep you posted of any epiphanies that come to me.
But for now, Godspeed, Captain Cernan. It is our hope that mankind will, in the not-too-distant future, once again follow in your footsteps.